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24 Children Hospitalized for Lead Poisoning

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Twenty-four children in an eastern China town have been hospitalized, as of late Wednesday, after dangerously high levels of lead were found in their blood.

The children, from nine months to 16 years old, suffered from moderate to severe lead poisoning with more than 250 microgrammes of lead per litre of blood, said Cheng Bangning, deputy director of the Anhui Provincial Children's Hospital's micro-elements testing laboratory.

Five-year-old Huang Han was among the first group of children admitted to the hospital. The lead level in his blood reached 330.9 microgrammes.

"My son is now very cranky and restless. He yells a lot," said Huang Dazhai, the boy's father, who was working outside town before rushing home to take care of his sick son, just like many parents of the hospitalized children.

"Most parents in our village are working in cities to support families. Usually, we left the kids with their grandparents," said Jiang Feng, whose hospitalized daughter was only 14 months old.

The parents are still discussing with doctors about treatment methods, as they are afraid that the children are too young to take strong medicine that could diminish the lead levels in their blood.

The hospital had tested about 280 children from Gaohe Township in Huaining County for lead poisoning since late December, and more than 200 of them had been diagnosed with high blood lead levels, Cheng said.

Several more children are waiting to be admitted, he added.

Most of these children were living in the town's Xinshan Community, where two battery plants operated nearby.

Some parents of the sickened children said there was only a road separating the community and the plants, where lead processing occurred.

However, environmental protection authorities have ordered that no residential community should be built within a radius of 500 meters from a battery plant.

The local government has shut down the plants and has been sending the town's children to the provincial capital of Hefei City to test their blood lead levels.

"We can draw a clear conclusion that the lead poisoning was caused by the lead pollution of the battery plants," said Zhang Gong, director of the hospital's child healthcare department.

Excessive amounts of lead in the blood can cause damage to the digestive, nervous, and reproductive systems and also stomach aches, anemia and convulsions.

Battery manufacturing plants are often blamed for lead poisoning in children.

In July last year, four children living near a battery plant in east China's Jiangsu Province were found to be suffering from lead poisoning.

Also in south China's Guangzhou Province, a battery factory was shut down in December 2009 after at least 25 children living nearby were found to have excessive lead levels in their blood.

(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2011)